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Changing Face of Allotments

This week I’ve found myself at the centre of a news story rather than writing about it. You see, around four weeks ago I made a comment on my personal gardening blog in relation to a story published in the gardening magazine, Amateur Gardening.

An article written by Matthew Appleby referred to a report that star of BBC TV series Ground Force, Charlie Dimmock, had commented that allotments should be “cut down to a third”.

Speaking to the Daily Mail this week, Karen Kenny, president of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners supported my remarks by commenting:

“It appears that Miss Dimmock is of the opinion that allotments are for doing a bit of gardening and growing a few exotic fruit and veg. Not so. The standard size plot of 250 square metres is specifically the size needed to feed a family of four for 12 months.

Allotment gardeners feel quite strongly about it. That’s what allotments are for and a quarter of a plot is not going to support a family. You will frequently find half-plot tenants are back on the waiting list for a second plot in a short time, realising that half is not enough.

I have no idea what her involvement with allotments is or where she is coming from, it seems to just be a random thought.”

The public response regarding this debate has been equally divided from what I read on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. But one aspect that I have picked up via my research is that maybe Miss Dimmock and I are both correct.

You see, for me, I view allotments in their traditional sense. When they were first introduced their sole purpose was for a family to be self-sufficient.

During the Dig for Victory campaign in the 1940s the role of the allotment became even more important. Families would tend their plots religiously every week, even if they didn’t like gardening. It was either tend the allotment or live entirely on rations.Allotment Vegetables Harvest

After the war rationing was phased out and many people gave up or lost interest in their allotment. There was no longer a need to tend the land as supplies were slowly getting back to their pre-war status.

Sites slowly lost gardeners and plots became available but there was little call, not when compared to the wartime demand. Brambles and weeds had freedom to spread without the weekly intervention of the gardener.

The Good LifeWith the help of television shows such as ‘The Good Life’ (1975-1978) through to The Big Allotment Challenge (2014-2015) the interest in allotments grew dramatically. Sites that were once home to brambles were cut back and would-be Tom and Barbara Good’s started living off the land.

At the turn of the 21st century most sites had waiting lists, and long ones at that on some London sites. The average wait for a new allotment is currently 3 years. You have to wait for either the previous owner to give up, die or be thrown off if they haven’t kept their allotment up to the standards expected.

One of the problems, as I see it, can be found here. The time to evict someone from an allotment can be endless. You see, a plot holder will receive a ’28 day Letter’ – they have 28 days to get their land into shape or leave. These sites usually haven’t been tended for months so grass and weeds are smiling as they wave in the wind and loving every minute of freedom.

On one site, I know a gentleman who received his ’28 Day Letter’ around 4 years ago but still rents his plot. He arrives within the 28 days and cuts the grass, maybe just turning a few feet of soil over. The site committee are pleased there has been progress and he’s allowed to stay. A few months pass and the same process starts again. This can go on for many years.

In order to reduce the waiting lists dramatically, and get keen gardeners onto the land, this process must be tightened. Maybe a three-strikes and you’re out would work, but even that equates to three months.

The social media comments regarding Miss Dimmock have highlighted that the traditional use of an allotment is changing. For some it’s an escape, somewhere to relax, teach the children about food – and for that you don’t need a traditional 250 square metres plot, a quarter plot would do just fine.

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